Hockey Players Transition from Water to Ice

Hockey Players Transition from Water to Ice

While fans in Vegas fight for seats to watch their brand-new Golden Knights’ play for the Stanley Cup, players for Vegas and Washington battle to stay fresh during the last leg of the postseason. Not an easy task; hockey is the fastest moving contact sport, with players skating up to almost 40 mph. Injury rates rival those of American football and the sport requires extreme speed, power and finesse.

With hockey on our minds, we went to HydroWorx’ own Mike McHugh, Business Growth Executive, one of the original owners of HydroWorx and former professional hockey player, to learn from his experience about the impact of aquatic therapy for hockey. Mike’s 10-year career included time with the Minnesota North Stars, San Jose Sharks and Hershey Bears.

Mike, how and by whom were you first introduced to the HydroWorx system?

MM: I injured my knee in a game just four weeks out from an AHL All-Star game I was supposed to play in.  I had a grade two MCL sprain. Dr. Kevin Black, our team physician, knew how much I wanted to play in the game. He suggested that I spend some time in the HydroWorx pool at the Hetrick Center in Middletown, PA with Dr. Paul Hetrick.

What was your initial reaction to using the HydroWorx system?

MM: Well, I had previous experience with warm water therapy pools. However, the other pools were static, with only two depths and none of the unique and functional features of the HydroWorx pool. Using the HydroWorx 2000 at the Hetrick Center, with the moveable pool floor, integrated underwater treadmill, resistance jets and underwater video views was an amazing experience. Previous to this, I was not aware this technology was available in hydrotherapy. I was blown away! It allowed me to move in ways I could not on land at that stage of my injury rehab.

What did you find helpful about using it to rehab/condition?

MM: The moveable pool floor was very important because it allowed Dr. Hetrick to lower me to mid-chest, eliminating about 75-80% of my body weight. That put me in a pain-free condition. The underwater treadmill helped tremendously, as well. With the type of knee injury I had, during the early stages of rehab, I was able to walk, heel-toe, and move in all directions, pain-free, supported by the water.

I started with walking at low speed forward, then progressed to side shuffle and walking backwards. In a matter of a few sessions, I was able to do this at faster speeds along with karaoke movements, again, pain-free. This was key.

Soon, we were working on sports-specific movement. I began to replicate my skating stride at slow speeds, then progressed to faster speeds. In the final phases of my rehab, we lowered the pool floor less, adding more weight bearing to my movements. We also added resistance jets while using the treadmill which improved stability and increased my work rate in jogging, sprinting, simulating the skating stride, and multi-planar movements.

Specific to hockey, how is the HydroWorx system especially helpful?   

Injuries to the groin, hip flexors, knees, low back, ankles and shoulders are typical in hockey. Early initiation of rehab for these specific injuries is key to returning quickly and responsibly to play.

Water allows the athletes to not only unload for pain-free movement, but also build strength. As the underwater treadmill belt moves and athletes begin to ambulate, side shuffle, or karaoke, they experience resistance both in flexion and extension. Water’s natural property of resistance builds muscle as the legs return through the water before touching down again on the treadmill.

Walks and shuffle steps can then progress to replicating the skating stride on the underwater treadmill and resistance jets can be introduced.  The multi-planar nature of the system allows movements in all directions as if on land, a critical aspect in replicating the movement demands of the sport.

From my playing days, I always felt like the HydroWorx system was an excellent gauge of readiness for land-based rehab or return to the ice. It was very simple: if I felt anything in my rehab or conditioning in the HydroWorx system that caused concern, I was not ready for land or ice. When all felt in order, I progressed to land, then ice.

I also utilized the HydroWorx system late in my hockey career as a way to loosen up or recover, pre- and post-game. Before a game or practice, I might take a five-minute jog and stretch in the pool, then get my gear on and head out to practice. Post-game, I would typically jump in the pool for a comfortable 10-minute jog, then work with the massage hose as needed. With more and more professional players on the ice into their late 30’s, this is very beneficial for injury prevention.

For more information about how to keep hockey players on the ice, please visit

See a short video of how Mike was introduced to HydroWorx here




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